The History of St. Patrick’s Day

By Alexandra Reboredo

On March 17, people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day—the anniversary of Saint Patrick’s death. For over 1,000 years, the Irish have seen this day as a religious holiday, as Irish families traditionally attend church in the mornings and celebrate in the afternoon.

St. Patrick’s Day, which takes place during the Christian season of Lent, is usually heavily celebrated across the world. Lenten prohibitions, like the prohibitions of meat, were waived so that people can dance, drink, and eat traditional Irish foods—Irish bacon and cabbage.

The holiday is based off Saint Patrick, the apostle—Jesus’ disciple—of Ireland, who lived during the fifth century. Born in Roman Britain, Saint Patrick was captured and brought to Ireland as a slave at 16 years of age. Later, he escaped but returned to Ireland and was most well-known for bringing Christianity to its people.

Following his death, his mythology was ingrained into Irish culture. Most prominently, his legacy sparked when he explained the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) using the three leaves of the Irish clover.

The Roman Catholic holiday has been observed by the people of Ireland since around the ninth or 10th century. However, the first parade held to honor St. Patrick on March 17 did not take place in Ireland but in the U.S.

On March 17, 1762, Irish soldiers serving the English military marched through New York City. Just like today, the marches allowed the soldiers to connect with their Irish roots and fellow Irishmen in the army.

The holiday is now widely spread across the United States, beginning with the influx of Irish immigrants. In 1845, the Great Potato Famine hit Ireland. As a result of the lack of potatoes across the countries, close to 1 million Irish Catholics migrated to America to avoid starvation.

Creating conflict with the American Protestant majority, the Irish were seen as drunken, ignorant animals during their St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. However, once they created the “green machine” voting bloc, the Americans realized their large numbers were an important swing vote.

Suddenly, St. Patrick’s Day parades swept the country as a sign of strength for Irish Americans, and a pedestal for political candidates. To this day, Irish celebrations take place all over the world from Japan to Singapore to Russia.

Beginning in 1995, St. Patrick’s Day was used to promote tourism and drive global interest in the holiday. What once began as a religious feast in Ireland has spread through immigration to global celebrations and parades in honor of the death of St. Patrick.

 

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